7 Principles of plant selection

Updated: May 20, 2021

The seven principles you'll need to consider when planning your planting scheme to be sustainable and well established year after year. Selecting the right plant for the right location is essential to success.

  1. Light

In your site you can observe how and how much light hits each spot during the day or alternatively you can work it out checking the orientation of the site, checking the surrounding elements that can possibly cast a shadow on it (check height of trees, fences, buildings), you can also check the levels of the space.

You'll be pretty sure that North facing sites get the least sun during the day, while South facing ones will get the most. East will get sunlight in the mornings, while the sun will move to West in the afternoon.

Each plant has its own light requirements, summarised as follows:

- full sun - 6 or more hrs of light each day

- partial shade - 3 to 6 hrs each day

- full shade - less than 3 hrs each day

2. Soil

Essential is to understand three main characteristics of soil:

- type

- ph

- moisture

The properties of soil make it possible for it to retain certain levels of water, moisture and nutrients, as well as a structure that allows plants to feed, to hold on to and to establish well and to finally thrive in it.

Based on the characteristics of soil to drain water, the plants will need more or less irrigation, as well as from this it will depend the initial selection of plants that may be more drought tolerant or on the contrary more resistant to water logging.

I will dedicate a more complete article for each of these topics in more detail.

3. Hardiness

Hardiness is the ability of plant to resist temperatures, and even in temperate climate we can notice temperatures swings that can report damage to some plants and none to others.

For example, some plants native to high altitudes can resist to frost more than mediterranean species, but even in this case we need to pay attention to the specific situation.Keep an eye on levels of moistures, because cold and humidity together can cause even more damages.

4. Height and spread

When we plant it's good to bear in mind the ultimate size of each species we specify, first because it need a certain space to grow healthy second because we may also take in consideration the size of a plant based on the functionality of a space. A simple example is if we need to achieve privacy from neighbors, we need to have a certain height and mass of plants. Of if we need to cover the ground under a tree, we should not choose shrubs that grow up to 2 meters height.

Every landscape designer will use the right symbols on their drawings too, specifying the mature size of each species of plant in order to work out the ultimate look of the garden when all the plants grow.

5. Type of plant

You’ll be able to choose among trees, shrubs, perennials, plants that can be grouped together or stand alone based on your needs or tastes or feeling you want to achieve. Among the types of plants, here's a few:

- bulbs

- herbs (aromatic and edible)

- herbaceous

- ornamental grasses

- ferns

- trees

- climbers

- mat forming

6. Interest

If a plant won't add any interest to your garden, why choosing it?

Even if most plants will have some interest to add, picking the right ones for your site is the perfect choice. Interest can be given by colours, shape, foliage, textures, sounds, fragrances and why not also flavor, and selecting different plants that give interest in different season is even smarter.

7. Care

Last but not least you want to pick plants that have levels of maintenance corresponding to the skills and time you can put into maintaining them.

If you have or are willing to dedicate little time to your garden or balcony, then select plants that need little care during the year.


Once all the 7 principles are in place, chances your garden or terrace will thrive sustainably and be healthier and healthier are simply good.

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